The 1830s was Nova Scotia's “Age of Reform.” Although historians have documented the growing tensions between elected Assembly and appointed lieutenant governor and Council, the concomitant attacks on the established economic elite, and the rise of a distinct party in colonial politics, little attention has been paid to the role played by the colony's courts and judges in this crucial decade. This lacuna is surprising, because reformers were convinced that the judges of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court (NSSC) were bulwarks of the old order and barriers to progress, and as their movement gained influence in the 1830s it brought the judges and the court system to the fore. This period saw numerous proposals for reform to the colony's laws and legal system, some effected and others not. Here we examine those aspects of the reform platform that were most hotly contested precisely because they exemplified the ways in which controversies about the legal system both reflected and exacerbated broader political and social change. The most important issues were judicial fees and the role of the chief justice as head of the Tory-dominated lieutenant governor's Council. We also examine two other matters in which the judicial system was directly linked to reformers' general demands for a system of government more responsive to the needs of ordinary Nova Scotians: judicial salaries and the role of the lower civil courts.
Jim Phillips is professor in the Faculty of Law, University of Toronto, and cross-appointed to the Department of History and the Centre of Criminology. He is also editor-in-chief of the Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
Bradley Miller is a SSHRC post-doctoral fellow in the Department of History at Queen's University. <email@example.com>. Financial support for the research was provided by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History. Bradley Miller also acknowledges the support he received as the R. Roy McMurtry Fellow in Canadian Legal History for 2008–2009. The authors thank Julia Croome, Christine Davidson, Rachel Kent, and Christian Vernon for research assistance. Previous versions of this article were delivered to the Toronto Legal History Group and the American Society for Legal History Conference, Ottawa, 2008. The authors also thank the participants for their comments, especially Paul Craven, Philip Girard, and Barry Wright, as well as David Tanenhaus and the journal's anonymous reviewers.